When news broke of Volkswagen’s alleged violations of emissions laws, my reaction was one of profound and personal disappointment. Let me explain.
The accusations (of which there seems to be fairly damning evidence) plainly state that VW engineers had installed software on certain diesel models that actively caused the vehicles to enter a “test only mode” that allowed them to meet emissions limits in pre-delivery testing – even though real-world emissions were 40 times the allowable limit for some pollutants.
And just in case you might be under the impression that this was the work of some rogue group of lowly engineers, there is every expectation that, by the time you read this, you will have already seen more than a few executive heads rolling in the strasse, following VW AG chair Martin Winterkorn out the door.
Many of these resignations will be viewed as have been made on principle alone. But as the disgraced automaker struggles to find its footing in the face of evidence that some 11 million vehicles worldwide were equipped with the emissions-manipulating software, it’s just not the kind of move that happens at the low levels of a company.
I’m disappointed that as venerable a brand as VW seems to have done exactly what the most rabid critics of big business and environmental lobbies have said for years: they’ve lied to us all.
And I’m doubly disappointed by the fact that, while I do not currently own a VW product, it was very much a part of my identity growing up.
Recently, my better half found out that she worked with someone from my old neighbourhood, and while he couldn’t really remember any personal details about me, nor I him, he did know that we always had a Volkswagen in the driveway. He may not have remembered that my father also built a succession of VW-powered racecars in our garage, and that our whole family was connected to the early days of organizing both VW and Porsche competition in Canada.
There have been other scandals that approach the scale of this one. And yes, there were some small-scale, similar cases of “defeat devices” being outed in the past. But while my mind goes immediately to the cases of GM’s ignition switch cover-up, and further back to the days of “Unsafe at Any Speed,” this one is different.
More than anything else, it reminds me of the introduction in the heavy-duty market of the EPA limits, and how seven truck engine manufacturers had one mode of operation for lower emissions testing, and a different one for highway hauling. But those companies’ 1.3 million heavy-duty diesel engines, and US$83 million in fines, seems puny in comparison to the scope of the VW case and the billions in fines it is facing.
One industry expert I spoke to said that a worst-case scenario could see the end of the brand and the company as we know it.
So, to get back to where I began, I am disappointed that not only does this case damage a brand that I had held in such high regard – a brand that I felt I had a intimate connection to even if I never owned one again – has been sullied by what appears to be a wilful act to exchange pollution and the health of our species for dollars, sound engineering for deception.
If nothing else, this serves as another reminder, for any business that had forgotten, that chickens do come home to roost. Deception is never the right road. And in this world of freely flowing information, the truth always comes out.
— Andrew Ross, Publisher email@example.com